by - 5/19/2018


I come home still bleeding.
You ruined Dad’s plan.
They wait around the house, mother and aunts and uncles and cousins, my brother coming forward to greet me as soon as I slip in the door. The words on his lips fade when no one else follows. Something in his shoulders relaxes when he sees the blood still rolling down my arm, and that makes my stomach turn, like someone’s hit me.
“I’m not hurt,” I tell him, even though it isn’t what he asked.
“Come here.”
I’ve never told my brother what to do before.
I’ve never expected him to listen.
You’re going to start a war.
Cousin Rian trails behind me with a face still weighed down by grief. He hangs back when my mother and Aunt Eva surround me, smoothing down my hair, trying to look into my eyes.
“What happened?”
“Are you all right, doll?”
“Where’s your father?”
My mother says this and I look in her eyes, even though I don’t feel like I can.
I tell her.
I tell her all of it. I tell all of them, as they gather into the kitchen, and Uncle Quinn lets off a series of curses that for once makes no one flinch.
“I knew it,” he says, and paces back and forth. “I knew it, the little bastard, I knew he’d do something like this. Rian, let’s go—”
“No,” I say.
I should be the quivering little girl still. Only a handful of years ago did I actually piece together what we did in this family — I don’t have the deep ties and the experience and the gunfire and the blood that weighs down on everyone else. But I do have bleeding hands, and something dark and cold in the pit of my stomach, so I stand tall, and I pretend that I’m my father, that I’m everything I’ve seen him do.
“We’re not going after anything,” I say. “We need to weigh our options. We need to be smart.”
“The hell—”
“We’re not going anywhere.”
I look at the uncle who used to carry me on his shoulders, and who still mows down men by the dozens and leaves them splattered ten ways across the floor. “We’re not going anywhere,” I repeat. “Do you hear me? We need a plan.”
His jaw clenches.
“Áine,” my mother says. But she knows.
They all know. I wonder if my father told them or if it’s something I carry on my shoulders now, something everyone else can see.
“Fine,” Quinn says, through gritted teeth. “But we’re not waiting long. And you’d better take care of that problem of yours.”
“There’s a problem?”
He jerks his head toward Dad’s office. “Said you’d know what to do with it.”
I do.
I nod.
“I’ll be out soon.”
No one tries to stop me as I leave, not even my mother. But I feel all their eyes on my back as I open the door to my father’s office, slip in, and lock it behind me. I used to spend whole afternoons in here while rain drizzled down the windows — I’d sit on the floor and draw or read while Dad sent messages and managed a family at the desk. Sometimes I’d listen to his meetings, and the men would give me skeptical looks, but dad waved them off, and all their secret words floated right over my head. I wish I’d paid a little more attention now. I don’t know how he expects me to lead anything when I don’t know half of what’s required.
Right now, though, I’m not thinking about any of that. Out of all the important items in my Dad’s office, there’s one that seems slightly more urgent than the others, and that’s Laslo Hugh tied to a chair.
His coat is gone. A purple-red bruise spreads across his cheekbone, and one eye is dark and swollen half-shut. Every breath he makes comes out whistling and pained, though I don’t know if that’s from the bloodied nose or some damage done to his ribs, or both. Either way, it’s everything I’ve got in me that keeps me from fleeing the room.
You should do something about your reporter friend.
As usual, dad’s left me a gift, and as usual, it’s got a test wrapped up in it as well.
He tries to smile, but it’s a crooked, hurt thing that makes something in my chest twitch. I fumble and pull out my switchblade as I crouch down next to his chair.
“Hold on.”
Even when the rope is gone he just sits there, breathing into the silence. I take my time in standing. Are you all right, I want to say. You shouldn’t be here, I want to say even more. Get out of here.
I want to fall forward and cry until there’s nothing left, until I’m no longer sore from the effort of keeping upright, but I can’t afford some things. I take a shaky breath and blink a little hard until my eyes stop stinging.
“I told you to stay away,” I tell him, in the most scolding voice I can muster up.
Laslo shrugs and winces. “Well.”
“Are you hurt badly?”
“I can move, I think,” he says, and wiggles one arm to prove it. “It’s the whole breathing thing—” He shuts his eyes tight.
“Stay still.” I move around him and behind Dad’s desk, a great oak affair that always seemed a little too grand for the rest of the office. I think he likes sitting behind it and feeling more important than the people on the other side. When I was little he’d let me rummage in the drawers, and I’m still mostly familiar with the layout, so I go straight for the bottom right. Everything is exactly where it should be — he’s a man of habit, too. And occasionally he doesn’t want my mother to see the blood on his hands when he comes home.
Gauze. Alcohol. A little box of pills that rattles ominously. “Do you think you can move much more?”
“Maybe,” Laslo replies. He’s also… not moving. “Not so excited about it.”
“You’re a mess,” I tell him, alcohol-soaked cloth in hand. “Now keep still.”
“I’m — ow,” he hisses, but he’s too late, I’m already at work on the cuts on his face. There’s a nasty one right under his eye, and I can just imagine a nice pair of brass knuckles and the sort of damage it does. Cousin Rian quite likes them. “If you could just—”
“Sit still.”
He squirms a little in his seat, and his breath keeps catching in his chest, but otherwise, Laslo listens. I dab at the cuts as gently as I can manage.
My hands shake.
“So I think…” he says between gritted teeth, “...might’ve met your brother. He looks like you, anyway.”
I pause for just a small second.
“...really not sure why they didn’t just kill me if they’re going to be so sore about things—”
Finally, I pull away and set the bloodied gauze on the desk. My own blood has started to drip down my arms, and it’s more harm than good at this rate. “That’s not their decision to make.”
“What the hell’s going on?”
I ignore that, as well as I’m able, mostly so the tears don’t betray me.
“You need to rest for a while,” I continue, frowning at the bruises on his face. “I think you might’ve broken a rib.”
“Feels like it, yeah. But—”
Listen to me.” All I want to do, for the strangest of reasons, is to touch his face. Maybe I need to know someone else is right here. Maybe I’m grieving and tired and not in my right mind. Maybe the look he’s giving me is something I don’t like in that it’s more than I deserve, in that it’s nothing but bizarre right here and now. “You’re only alive right now because that’s in my hands, and I’m telling you you can go. All right? You have nothing in this. You’ve been warned, and now you know what happens. So I’m going to open the window, and you’re going to go, because I don’t have all the time in the world, right? I have things to do and—”
and I think my father is trying to teach me a lesson and it’s one I know I’ll have to learn but I don’t want it, I don’t want it.
All I see is Connor Mullane with a gun to Dad’s head. Cousin Casey’s body in a bloodied sprawl on the ground, leaking out into the darkness. My uncle pacing back and forth with death in his eyes and a gun strapped across his shoulder.
Fat, hot tears slip from my eyes with every blink, no matter how I try to keep them back. Before I know it something in my insides heaves and my shoulders shake, too, and I can’t keep the weight of it back, I can’t, I’m collapsing into something that feels a lot like I made it myself, something deep and dark and slippery and sticky with my blood and the blood of my family, metallic and sharp. I just want to go back I just want everything to be all right I just want it all to be the way it was and I want to not know, I want to not know any of it, I want to scrub the blood off my hands until it goes away for good
“Ah,” Laslo says. “Ah, shit, here, just —”
“Get out,” I tell him. It’s less of a command and more of a pathetic little sob, the tight sort that comes when you’re trying not to let it out. “You need to go.”
You’re going to die too everyone’s going to die and that’s the point that’s what Dad wants you to know what all of it has to be
In another moment he stands, with a sharp hiss of pain, and wavers there in front of me.
I look at him and feel smaller than ever.
“Okay,” Laslo says. “Hey. Okay. Just—”
He wraps his arms around me. He shouldn’t. I don’t know him, and I could kill him, should kill him according to everything I’ve learned here and now. But he’s also holding me tight against him so I can feel him breathing with effort and his fingers winding through my hair and the way we rock back and forth, just a little, while my shoulders shake.
“Okay, so just — you’re okay. Yeah? You’re okay. Okay.”
Nonsense, all of it. I half-laugh into his shirt. On the other side of that office door my cousins are waiting with guns, braced for the possibility of an order to kill. My uncle is pacing back and forth with all that rage and wanting his brother back, wanting revenge. None of them know what’s going on right here and all of them would shoot on sight but Laslo Hugh is the closest thing to a person I want around right now, and I rather like the feeling of being held up.
“You need to get out of here,” I tell him, while I let myself wrap my arms around his waist and hold on tight. “You really do.”
I laugh again. Hysterical and frightening, and I know it, but I don’t really know how to stop. I want to stay here forever, let all the grief and hurt drain right out and pool on the floor. Which reminds me —
I jerk away from Laslo. His shirt is smeared red, stained where I pressed against him, smudged where the blood dripped down my arms and onto him. Red lines and slashes that make me sick sick sick all over again.
“What…” He looks down. “Oh.”
“I’m sorry.” I can’t say it fast enough, can’t stop saying it, even as I wipe at my face with one dirty sleeve. “Listen, you need to leave, you’re not a part of this.”
“You’re hurt again…”
“I’m not.” A hiccupy sob escapes my throat as I gesture down to the blood on my blouse. “This is just - this is—”
This is a curse. This is a curse that touches my whole family.
There’s no way to explain that when you aren’t steeped in it.
“Connor Mullane is going to kill my father,” I blurt out instead. “He has my father, and he’s going to kill him.”
Laslo winces and rubs at a cut above his eye. It’s already started to bleed again. “Connor Mullane.”
“We tried to make things right. It didn’t work. He’s going to kill my father now. I’m—” another sob — “I’m in charge, now. And I have to put together a plan and—”
And I’m speechless, watching him watch me.
He works around the problem slowly, and then with more urgency. “You need to get the police involved.”
“I mean it, Áine. You walk right over to the police and tell them what’s going on. You take Mullane down, you stop this.”
“And my whole family’s arrested! And everything we—” everything we worked for — “and my father goes to prison, and my mother runs if she’s lucky, and we all scatter, and I never see my brother again, is that what you want? Police isn’t an option.”
“This is out of hand.”
“No.” I can feel the anger building in my throat and I don’t know how to stop it. “No police. That’s not how we do this. That’s not how I fix this.”
“Well…” he looks to the heavens like he’s considering a prayer and shrugs helplessly. “Well I’m hearing about crime and murder, and your cousins just beat the shit out of me for no good reason, so I don’t see what other option I have.”
“You don’t. Go. To the police.”
“So I lie about it.”
“So you don’t say anything,” I reply, and I wish more than anything that he was holding me again, that we hadn’t started this, that I didn’t have a headache as big as this room. “You get out of here and leave it alone.”
Laslo rakes a bloodied hand through his hair. “That’s inaction. That’s knowing people are going to die and doing it anyway. That’s what you want me to do.”
“You can’t tell them, no! My family—”
“Are killers! Are drug-runners! Are about to start an all out war in this city! You know that, don’t you? You know the kinds of things they do?”
You know the kinds of things you do, says his eyes, looking at the blood on my shirt.
I should be ashamed. But I am my father’s daughter, and I am nothing but angry.
I pull myself up to my full height, whatever that’s worth. “I’m not going to help you to go the police,” I tell him. “And I’m giving you a chance to get back out of here before my cousins come back to check on me.”
I think he might shout.
Or say something.
But his hands fall back down to his sides. “Áine.”
“You’d better go quick.”
I want to turn away as he makes toward the window, with all that harsh breathing and limping, but I can’t do anything but stare at him. Watch him go.
I know you have to, I wish I could tell him.
You can’t, I wish I could tell him too.
I can’t let you do that, I should say.
None of the words come out. I don’t know if that’s a curse or a blessing.

Cousin Rian and Uncle Quinn wait outside the room when I open the door.
“Heard shouting,” Rian says, trying to peer around me as I exit. “You all right?”
“I didn’t like him,” Quinn growls. His fingers twitch. He paces restlessly, still. He won’t stop until he’s satisfied. I know him well, like I know my whole family well, who they are and what they do. “You off him?”
I swallow hard and hope my eyes aren’t too red and puffy. “I let him leave,” I say.
“You what?”
“Áine,” Cousin Rian starts.
I hold up a hand.
They both shut up.
“I’m not going to kill a reporter for no reason,” I say. I’m trying to say things the way my father would say them — with confidence. I don’t know if it’s succeeded yet. “He’s nothing important. I let him know what would happen if he gets in the way. He’s not going to bother us again.”
Quinn looks like he might respond, but instead, he only nods. Accepting it. You can get anyone to accept anything as long as you say it with enough authority, dad used to tell me. If you own it.
I’m not finished yet.
“I want to go after the Mullanes,” I say. My mother drifts into the room, but I ignore her, keeping my eyes locked on my uncle’s fiery ones. “I want us to take care of them. I don’t want to fight them again.”
My uncle’s lips curve up into a cruel, sharp slash of a smile. “You got it, boss.”

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  1. My baby Cillian survives another episode. *offers sacrifices to keep him alive*


    ~ Savannah
    Inspiring Writes

  3. You are absolutely incredible. This just gets better and better.


  5. I adore Laslo and Aine is so strong. These characters are all so captivating!




  7. ohhhhhhh this keeps getting more tense I'm dying


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